Friday, July 25, 2008

Succinctly Put

From David Brooks:
The great illusion of the 1990s was that we were entering an era of global convergence in which politics and power didn’t matter. What Obama offered in Berlin flowed right out of this mind-set. This was the end of history on acid.


MannyJ said...

Succinct, but dumb & lazy.

You know, there's a good reason Obama didn't make Kennedy's speech: he's not Kennedy, and it's not 1962.

Kennedy was a WWII vet in a Berlin now his ally against an existential threat. The Berliners needed to know he understood the threat and accepted the alliance.

Obama, in contrast, came to a basically pacifist country, from the world's biggest warmonger. He needed to tell them he cares about peace. It was the right speech for his moment.

Brooks tipped his hand when he said he liked these kind of speeches better when he first heard them. Well, gee, how about that, introductory speeches go over better when you're first introduced to someone. Imagine! Oddly enough, Obama is not targeting his speeches to David Brooks. If Brooks wants to go beyond introductions, he could, oh, I don't know, look up Obama's position papers, read his issue speeches, or conduct an interview. In fact, he does. But he still judges the speeches by whether they suit him, not whether they suit the audience or work as an introduction.

This is, frankly, unprofessional. This column reminds me of film reviews that don't tell you whether the audience will like it, but whether it breaks new ground in some fine point of cinematography or makes homages to classic films they teach in art school. It's an approach that makes no sense when judging a product targeted for the entry-level consumer.

If Brooks could relate this criticism to a larger flaw in Obama's judgment, it would be worth making. But he does the opposite: he says the speech does not reflect Obama's practical policies. The point of this column seems to be, oh, poor me, I have to listen to a pep speech, I'm tired of them.

Let him whine about how tough life is on his own time. For the money he's getting, he can afford to do some work and talk about issues that matter to those of us who do not listen to speeches full time.

TheRadicalModerate said...

Brooks was complaining about the utter lack of content (aka concrete proposals), which in turn telegraphs a certain degree of naivete in terms of how power politics in a multipolar world has to play out. Obama is extremely smart and (usually) extremely pragmatic, but you sure couldn't tell it by the Berlin speech. He wanted Europe to come away with the impression that the US would wield only soft power, which simply isn't true. He didn't have to deliver Kennedy's speech or even Reagan's speech. But he didn't even deliver Obama's speech.

Brooks is clearly partisan; the NYT hires him in that capacity. And he's certainly slanted his column as a partisan. But that doesn't relieve Obama from the duty to say what he really thinks. He didn't. He deserves to get criticized for that.

trilobite said...

Your criticism I'll buy. I don't think it was Brooks's.

I didn't like the speech much myself, not so much b/c it was a bit vacuous -- there's a place for general, high-floating rhetoric -- but b/c even as rhetoric it was a mess. Did he want a world at peace, or strategic alliances in three separate wars (GWOT, Iran, and Afghanistan)? Did he really mean he's going to try to take everyone's nuclear weapons? That's impossible and would be dangerous if it were possible. Etc.

MannyJ said...

Sorry, that was me, wrong alias.